Today, it is launching the Nest Learning Thermostat in the UK — its first market for the device outside of North America. It will sell for £179 for hardware-only, or £249 with the required installation (more on that below) through Nest.com as well as a selected group of third-party retailers that include Apple, John Lewis, Amazon, and the hardware chain B&Q. And Lionel Paillet, Nest’s general manager for Europe (freshly picked, literally two months ago, from his European management role at Apple) who introduced me to the product in Google’s London HQ, tells me that there is also a deal with the energy company NPower, who will also sell the device as well as installation of it, with pricing to come later.
The predicament that Nest and its co-founders Tony Fadell and Matt Roberts (both Apple alums) are aiming to tackle in this market is about as old-school as they get. Many people have no way of controlling the heat in their homes — many simply turn boilers on and off when things get too hot, or open windows — and yet consumers are spending a ton on their gas and electricity in this rather chilly (but often warm) country. The U.K. Office of Gas and Electricity Markets estimates that U.K. residents spend on average about £1,342 per year on energy, with heating accounting for over 60% of that.
But for a company looking to be disruptive, ironically, the Nest Learning Thermostat launch comes nearly three years after the device’s debut in the U.S. The reason for that lag speaks volumes about the hurdles that Nest (and its new owner Google) has had to and will have to overcome to tackle the wider market for home electronics.
In the UK, Nest has had to create a device that works on a completely different voltage to that of the U.S. — significantly higher here — and with a completely different kind of heating system — typically gas rather than air. That has resulted in need to create a completely new device, the Heat Link, which sits between the Learning Thermostat and your boiler and controls the latter. Also, while in the U.S. air conditioning (cooling) is as important as heating, in the UK, the need to cool your house, or the facilities to do so, are often nonexistent, so out goes the cooling features of the Thermostat to focus solely on heating.
And that’s before you get through the energy regulatory clearances for a new home appliance. And the fact that while the Learning Thermostat in the U.S. was effectively an out-of-the-box feature, in the UK people will need to have the devices professionally installed. That has meant that in addition to making the device, Nest has had to build up and train a network of tradespeople who can help users get the Learning Thermostat working in their homes. (Currently that network numbers some 200 people, and B&Q for one will have its own fleet of engineers who will also be able to install the device.)
The flip side of this is that now that the groundwork has been laid, Nest will be able to start to tackle other markets that are more like the UK’s in terms of home heating architecture, voltage and consumer preferences.
The device will have many of the same features as the Nest Learning Thermostat does in North America: Auto-Scheduling where Nest programs itself based on what you have asked it to do; Auto-Away where it detects with a sensor when you are no longer moving about; Remote Control from Nest’s apps for iOS and Android and web; energy efficiency alerts with the Nest Leaf; Energy History data; True Radiant controls that let you program based on target temperatures at certain times; and the ability to link up with the Nest Protect smoke and CO2 detector (which had no lag between launching across different markets because it didn’t need to work with existing home infrastructure).
The UK (and subsequent markets like it) will have a few extras. They include the fact that the main Nest Thermostat will be both a thermostat and programmer in one (in the UK you typically have a separate programmer for your boiler); the additional Heat Link device; and a stand. The latter, again, is partly to meet the challenges of existing infrastructure since many homes don’t have thermostat cables installed between the location of their boiler and the main part of their homes. This effectively means that the thermostat can sit anywhere and work with wireless connections to the Heat Link, which physically links up to the boiler.